Before a marathon runner competes in the Olympics, he undergoes years of intense training—both physical and mental [2D- two-dimensional]. He must maintain a healthy diet and exercise to make sure his body is fit. He must also become mentally prepared to ward off all sense of fatigue and failure during the race. After every practice, his sport becomes easier to him until he is ready to compete. Then after he competes, he trains for years again, preparing for the next Olympics.
Similarly, our Lord, The Most Exalted, has given us the Holy Month of Ramadan as a month of training. Unlike the runner, our training is three-fold: physical, mental, and spiritual [3D- three-dimensional]. Ramadan trains us for life, which is our means to Paradise. In Arabic, the word “Ramadan” means “scorching and burning”. The name highlights the intensity of the training since, according to scholars; we physically and mentally scorch and burn our sins and faults. By the month’s end, if our intentions were pure, we have bathed ourselves in a pool of spirituality.
Most people think first of the physical aspect of fasting, which for Muslims is a foundation for the mental and spiritual benefits. Hunger and thirst physically remind us of Allah’s blessings, which before the fast we had a tendency to take for granted. Fasting also provides us with numerous health benefits. The Prophet sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam ( may Allaah exalt his mention ) said:
“The son of Aadam never fills a container worse than his stomach.”
[Ahmad and others]
When we deprive the stomach of food and drink from dawn till dusk, we improve our digestion and blood pressure, to name a few of the many physical benefits. The acts of physical restraint during Ramadan improve our self-control for the rest of the year. We must not resume eating gluttonously and wastefully. We must maintain physical consciousness to appreciate Allah’s favors and make acts of worship easier for us.
Ramadan’s mental aspect is more difficult, but the strong physical foundation also helps to sharpen our focus and strengthen our will. This training is an example of striving with one’s inner desires. It exposes our flaws and can help eliminate or reduce them.
Mental restraint is especially important now, when Islam is being maligned and we must respond with that which is better. Patience and mercy are among the virtues we strengthen during Ramadan. With the combined physical and mental training we get in Ramadan, we can improve our relations with Muslims and non-Muslims as we strive for perfection.
A three-dimensional consciousness: physical, mental, and spiritual that Muslims throughout history attest it enhances one’s relationship with Allah, wipes clean our slate of sins and allows us to reap great reward. The Prophet sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam ( may Allaah exalt his mention ) stated that Allah declared:
“All deeds of the son of Aadam are for him except for fasting, it is for Me. And I will reward him for it.”
But we need to remember again the concept of training.
The heightened spiritual consciousness that we gain during Ramadan ameliorates our life to a three dimensional level: every action we make transforms from being a habit (physical and mental components of what we do) to becoming an act of worship when under the umbrella of spirituality. It is true, some may say, that spirituality always has that effect—Ramadan or not. But in Ramadan, this spirituality is more conscious, deliberate and intense.
A time for spiritual nourishment and self-introspection, Ramadan heralds a classic opportunity to draw closer to Allah and to bask in the many blessings that accompany the month. Commitments ranging from the recitation and study of the Quran to increased charity to regular Taraaweeh attendance are commonly made to reap the rewards of the fasting month.
To this effect, the Prophet sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam ( may Allaah exalt his mention ) once said:
“By Him in Whose Hands my soul is, the smell coming out from the mouth of a person observing fast is better with Allah Almighty than the smell of musk. (Allah Says about the fasting person): `He has left his food, drink and desires for My sake. The fast is for Me. So I will reward (the fasting person) for it and the reward of good deeds is multiplied ten times.’”
Further, with Satan chained and the gates of Paradise thrown open, the race for good deeds begins in every Ramadan. Yet, as people dive into the anxiously awaited month of spiritual gains, they realize that it comes with its own set of challenges. Indeed, just as our everyday test is to practice Islam while living in the world, this annual retreat-of-sorts is all about maximizing our worship while juggling the demands of our daily lives.
So, along with the fasting and all the plans, chores need to be taken care of, work must be attended to, and children’s needs have to be fulfilled. In order to avoid frustration due to neglecting one’s Ramadan goals or hardship caused by abandoning certain tasks and routines, a happy medium must be strived for. Striking this balance will not always be easy since it entails rescheduled days, little sleep, and a shift in priorities.
However, the results far outweigh the struggle, a feeling of contentment that we made our very best effort to capture the true essence of Ramadan. Allah Almighty Says (what means):
“O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous.”